After an absence of three days, the old man reappeared one morning with three gifts. First, there was a shield, decorated with feathers woven to depict four figures. Second, an axe, carved from as single piece of hard, dark wood, the wooden blade shod with sharpened copper. Finally, a pair of sandals, decorated with animals. Atl wanted all of them, claiming first one, then another, proposing bargains to his companions, arguments as to which they should prefer.
The old man asked Atl if he was a priest.
No, but he was a plumaweaver.
How was a plumaweaver like a priest?
They know how to please the gods.
What pleases the gods?
The old man presented the Shield of Loyalty—for the one who risked their life to save their friends.
Atl knew. That was Zolin, who had fought the red headed men alone when there was no reason left to hope. The four figures depicted on the shield were Atl, Young Savage, Divemoye, and Huasteco. “As you saved their lives, may they save yours.”
The old man presented the Axe of Justice—for the one who risked their life to save strangers.
Again Atl knew. Divemoye was the one who saw the heavy-laden slaves and charged to rescue them, not even turning back to see if his companions would support him. “When you fight for justice, this axe fights with you.”
The old man presented the Sandals of Truth—for the one who risked the displeasure of an ornery sorcerer to protect the life of an animal.
Atl hesitated, but admitted it was Young Savage who had insisted on freeing the javelina, instead of cooking it for the old man. When Young Savage put the sandals one, the animals decorating the straps began to run and jump. “Any animal you meet will know your true intentions.”
What reward was left for Atl?
Wisdom. What sacrifice did the gods find pleasing? Did they have need for blood or tears? When Atl offered them a pluma crown, was it cherished for the weight of the feathers?
Atl’s reward, if he accepted it, would be a life of sorrow. A new priest, with no need for a knife.
The travellers returned to the road. It passed through the drying jungle to the barren plains. The white stones of the sacbe half-covered by a fine layer of ash. The bodies of their enemies from many days before were untouched by any scavengers larger than insects.
That night they slept in the open, with no shelter but the hazy sky and solitude. More days passed like this and the road brought them to a broken land of brittle black rocks, seemingly impassable from a distance. And yet the smooth white stone climbed the sharp black mountains step by steps and step by step the travellers followed them. The wind blew ash in their faces, interrupting their conversations. Squinting, they felt their way across the hard white stones.
In this monotonous dream, the travellers half-welcomed a new sound, a clicking that rose from nowhere and echoed everywhere. Soon the sound grew louder and sharper and its source appeared. Scorpions, large as monkeys, bright green like leaves of new maize, they sprouted from the dead rocks and swarmed over the travelers.
Young Savage insisted that they should not be harmed. Did the scorpions take his meaning? His companions did, but disregarded it. With axes and spears, they struck at the scorpions and the clicking turned into crunching. Human blood was spilled. The scorpions’ claws were sharp as daggers. They cut at the legs of Zolin and Paal. One of the porters was knocked to the ground and would have been killed if Atl had not sent the scorpion flying with a sharp blow from his club. But after several scorpions were killed, the two survivors seized the bodies of their fellows and scrambled away into a crevice.
Divemoye followed them into a steep canyon. Ignoring the scrapes on his back he slid down the rough black rock in pursuit. His companions, without understanding the value of eliminating the scorpions rather than simply driving them away, followed him. Divemoye lost sight of his quarry until a stinger was buried deep in his calf. With his axe, he killed the scorpion, but he immediately fell to his knee howling in pain. Atl immediately began applying the healing poultice that he had learned to make with the old man of the pyramid. Zolin and Young Savage scouted for more scorprions. They saw none, but they saw something much more interesting, a row of buildings tucked under a ledge on the opposite side of the canyon.
They picked their way down to the dry stream bed where they found a well-worn path leading up the other side to the dwelling on the cliff. At the base of the cliff, they found a jumble of broken ladders. Atl climbed up and then threw a rope down for his companions. Divemoye was hosted on two ropes. As the sun set, everyone collapsed into sleep.